“Which type of girls do you prefer? White? Asians? Latinas? Black?”
In the midst of a random midnight conversation, my housemate asked me this question. “Asian girls and white girls are pretty cute,” I thought. But I hesitated to say it out loud. I felt uncomfortable with this racial preference regarding attraction, so I asked, “Isn’t that racism?” to which my friend calmly answered, “It’s just a matter of preference, not racism.”
And I agree with her, that the question does not involve racism. According to Wikipedia, “[r]acism consists of both prejudice and discrimination based in social perceptions of biological differences between peoples.” Applying this definition to the situation, my friend did not intend to disdain a certain race, but instead just categorized people into distinct groups, similar to what the U.S. demographic survey does. Superficially, there exists no racism within the question. However, the question shows that there is some relationship between race and attractiveness in our society. Although individuals do not intend to be racist in terms of beauty, our society culturally bares racism as a legacy from history.
Before going through the analysis of this relationship, I want to clarify what determines attractiveness to claim that race is only relevant to physical attractiveness. It may differ for different individuals, but simply, the social consensus is that personality, culture, language and physical beauty are the four main factors. Here, I want to suggest that personality, culture and language are completely irrelevant to race if we take a close look. Race is not truth but a social construct, which means that perception of race is our fantasy. Assuming a person’s internal identity based on the external color is just absurd. I am pretty sure you have seen white people speaking Chinese fluently, like Mark Zuckerberg, Asian people who love tacos and black people who have grown up in European culture. Especially in the U.S., we cannot just judge a person based on his or her color because we never know what kind of background the person has lived in.
So what is the relationship between race and physical beauty? Statistics from Satoshi Kanazawa, a professor in the London School of Economics, demonstrate that white women are considered the most attractive; on the graph above, a bar for each race represents attractiveness. I do not agree with the professor, who claims that racial superiority in attractiveness exists biologically, because race is not scientific and attractiveness is subjective and socially constructed. However, these statistics are useful to see how people perceive each race in terms of beauty. Though appeared to have diminished, racism seems to remain in our culture. Today’s ideal of beauty is based on the physical features of white people. Big eyes, sharp nose, small and narrow face and other typical features of white men and women have become the standard of beauty. Preference toward looking white, or white fever, indeed exists in our society.
This relationship between beauty and race has been intermingled for a long time. Unfortunately, today’s paradigm on beauty and attraction has historically and culturally been imbued with racism. Imperialism established racism as an excuse to colonize non-whites, with white supremacy predominantly believed to be a “fact”, particularly supported by eugenics that verified white superiority as scientifically correct. The trend of racism continued for hundreds of years until the mid-20th century, and surprisingly, it has been only a few decades since racism has been thought as irrational and unjust. The Civil Rights Movement that removed discrimination, for example, occurred in 1964 and 1965. Until then, race had represented a person’s social and economic status, power and privilege. Whiteness that implied upper class became something people sought.
Now the longing for whiteness in our society has been perpetuated by ourselves. Take a look at Hollywood, which leads cultural trends globally. In its movie and drama productions, most men and women considered attractive have white features. For example, Scarlett Johansson, Megan Fox, Blake Lively, Leonardo DiCaprio, Zac Efron and Brad Pitt who are among the top stars have physical characteristics of a white person. In addition, perhaps the most famous human figure, Barbie, tends to remark what the ideal physical beauty is. From a young age, kids play with Barbie, which has blonde hair, blue eyes, skinny body and so on, and they naturally absorb the paradigm. Even worse, the beauty hierarchy is also reinforced by non-white people under these types of cultural influence. For example, numerous people in Korea receive cosmetic surgery to look more white, intending to look more attractive. Ironically, plastic surgery has become another popular culture. The reproduction of the legacy perpetuates the beauty hierarchy, a form of implicit racism.
We see these trends in the past and the present. Then, what will happen to the relationship between race and attractiveness in the future? The past and present show intense racism and its legacy. But at the same time, history also shows long-term progress in eliminating racism. Expanding from it, I strongly believe that the progress will continue. Our society will hold increasing intercultural interactions that will build bridges between different cultures and remove xenophobia. Also, increasing interracial marriages will dilute racial distinctions through boosting the number of the mixed population. Hence, the significance of race will gradually diminish in society. The decreasing importance will lead to respect toward physical features of non-white people. To put it simply, a weaker enforcement of race will lead to a weaker enforcement of the beauty paradigm according to race.
Attraction, an emotional response, is extremely complicated and involves countless factors. Regarding physical beauty, the relationship between race and preference exists, and its analysis reveals that implicit racism persists in our society as a legacy of explicit racism. Our beauty paradigms are unconsciously shaped by our surrounding environment. So, individuals cannot be accused as racist because we do not intend to become racist. Nevertheless, we still carry the responsibility to eradicate the negative social construct from our minds and society. I have a dream that we will soon unfetter ourselves from social stereotypes and social pressure. There, we will be closer to a “no race” society in which each person’s individuality is liberated and respected.
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